“Not bad”, me thinks, peering through the slightly smudged cold case at Starbucks. They sure can make things look good. Ginger bread especially. Those nice, thick, moist looking slices with cream colored frosting and little candied orange bits sprinkled on top. But then there’s the essential me, with all of the aches and schisms when it comes to food that came from some mysterious location, probably on a truck and then a hand cart and then over the sidewalk and …oy. My brain starts to hurt. I hyperventilate just a little. So, rather than get all Howard Hughes and freak out over what might or might not be inside a piece of (delicious looking) ginger bread, ultimately forcing me to miss out on a tasty slice of life that I’ll no doubt look back on with tiny pangs of regret as I lie on my death bed at 120 years of age, I bake it at home. I bake it with good stuff I can clearly identify by laying it out on my own table before I get my mix and bake on. I LOVE Ginger bread. It’s dark, moist, spicy, sweet, just hardy enough to fill a cold belly on a winter afternoon and, little known fact, miraculously calorie free on Christmas day. Don’t quote me or sue me on that.
I made this from fresh grated ginger, madagascar vanilla bean and whole wheat organic flour. The perfect topping is, of course, our cream cheese frosting, to which I added candied ginger for a finishing touch. The spice to sweet ratio is completely world class, rock star quality and the whole wheat added a little depth to the texture. Feel free to make it with a good quality, organic all-purpose flour if you want something a little more delicate.
Yields: 9X5″ Loaf, which serves 6-8. Time: 15 minutes to prep, 50 minutes to bake. 1 Hour and 10 minutes-ish
Soundtrack: The English Beat-Save it for Later. Maybe everyone has that song they turn to when things don’t seem so great and they need to dwell a little before they get back on the horse. This is mine. I contend that it’s ok to take a breath every now and then and admit that life isn’t all happy thoughts and easy days. It’s human to let a bad day sink in just as it’s human to eventually get over it and move on. This song accompanies me in the waiting room between “today sucks” and “tomorrow will get better”.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (f)/ 180 (c) and position a rack in the center. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9×5″ loaf pan with non stick canola spray.
Bonus: To make vanilla sugar, save the unused vanilla bean (once the pulp and seeds are removed) and bury it in 1 Cup of organic, granulated sugar for 4 weeks, covered. Use 1 Cup of vanilla sugar to replace 1 Cup of sugar plus 1 tsp. of vanilla in baking.
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz of organic cream cheese (1 Cup), room temperature (low fat varieties are fine if you prefer them)
6 Tbsp. organic, unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 Cup organic powdered/confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2-4 Tbsp. Candied Ginger Pieces, diced
1 1/2 Cups organic whole wheat flour (or organic all-purpose)
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fresh grated cinnamon
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground all spice
1/2 vanilla bean
8 Tbsp. organic, unsalted butter, softened (room temperature)
1 Cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 Cup unsulphured molasses
2 organic, free-range eggs at room temperature
1/2 Cup organic, low fat buttermilk
Cream Cheese Frosting
Sift the powdered sugar into the bowl of your electric mixer and fit the mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and beat at medium speed until completely smooth and fluffy. Stop the mixer, scrape the sides as needed and add the cream cheese, starting on medium low and increasing to medium once the ingredients have incorporated. Beat on medium until light and fluffy and completely smooth. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to one week in an airtight container. It is not recommended for freezing.
Slice the vanilla bean down the center with a knife and scrap the pulp and seeds into 1/2 Cup of warm buttermilk and set aside to steep. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, spices and salt into a medium sized bowl and whisk to combine. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or hand mixer), combine the butter and brown sugar and beat at medium speed until fluffy and slightly lighter in color. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed, add in the eggs one at a time, mixing at low speed in between and until thoroughly combined. Add the molasses and continue to mix until completely incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl again as needed. On medium speed, alternate additions of the flour/spice mixture and buttermilk/vanilla mixture a third at a time, starting and ending with the flour/spice mixture. Once completely combined, pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and place in the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to completely cool before frosting. Sprinkle the candied ginger pieces on top.
The entire loaf will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container at room temperature. You can store in the refrigerator for one week in an airtight container or freeze (unfrosted) for up to 2 months. Let come to room temperature before frosting if the bread has been frozen. Cream cheese frosting can also be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week in an airtight container. It is not reccomended it be left at room temperature for more than a day. Let cold frosting come to room temperature, then re-whip for 30 seconds at medium-high speed with an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.